A few thoughts on the novel corona virus pandemic

At the moment the globe is still wrestling with the novel coronavirus. There is now new found hope that the promise of a few vaccines that show efficacy in early analysis will come to fruition and life can return to a certain level of normalcy. Early on numerous Bioethicists were being consulted on the matter of triage, enforcing health measures onto populations, and even human challenge trials that have now been approved if only just one trial of this kind. In this short article, I would like to just share my thoughts and opinions on a few other elements beyond the classical Bioethical issues just mentioned. Those include to begin highlighting the widespread disparities in society that have long been known and its impact on health. Then I would like to comment on the widespread behaviour of citizens expressing racial hatred and discrimination to those of a visibly Asian descent, and its distinction from requesting national action from China to address its role in this pandemic. Before finishing, I will also comment on collective decision making and limitations on consequences for non-compliance. I will end with a look at the local provincial and municipal level and the question of blame for economic loss.

The global novel coronavirus pandemic has not only taken far too many lives, but it has also shined a bright light on economic disparity at nearly all levels of society and its toll on health outcomes. While it has always been argued that there is a relationship between low levels of income and illness, the pandemic as we now face it, is showing us a direct causal relationship. We know that those who rely on public transit, in blue collar workforces, and shared living arrangements, are being exposed at a greater rate, and therefore contracting COVID 19 more often. Those who own a motor vehicle, can work remotely, and can live independently or where the living arrangement has greater space for each occupant are far less exposed. It is an unashamed reminder of the interests of those in power, that two main bits of health advice to follow is to stay at home and work remotely and to distance yourself at all times by 2 meters. This is not an option for low paying jobs and requires for some expensive equipment, and the distancing is not possible on public transit or if you are the public facing component of a company. This type of messaging is harmful in a number of ways to those who cannot follow it. The first being an affirmation that their situations are not shared by those who govern, otherwise they clearly would not be made knowing the impossibility of it, and secondly, that their situation and voting voice, is not of a primary, perhaps even secondary, concern. Both of these facts result in a further distancing of the economically disadvantaged from the political establishments at nearly all levels of government.

As with all crisis, either man made or otherwise, there has been a psychological drive in some of the population to find an outlet for their anger at the situation. Unfortunately time and again that outlet is often of a group people who are of a minority population with minimal political power and involvement. As everyone has heard in the media from Public Service Announcements urging acceptance, and perhaps witnessing firsthand accounts of discrimination on Asian citizens, Asian Canadians are entirely wrongfully and illegally being discriminated against as an outlet for ignorant, hate filled, despicable portions of the population. The pandemic has truly shown the ugly side of humanity again, as discrimination and public verbal abuse, sometimes physical, of a scapegoat has reared its insidious head. Although recognizing this widespread hatred is entirely wrong, I do not think we should not ask of the Government of China to take measures that would mitigate a crisis such as this from happening again. For this, we can rightly demand cooperation with a multinational effort to understand the cause of the pandemic in Wuhan, China. This will allow for measures to be enacted that ensure to the highest degree possible, another pandemic of this scope does not happen again. The enactment of measures to ensure safety will not happen overnight, but it is essential that it does happen.

In the post-pandemic relationship between Canada and China, it is important to know whether China will be advancing relations with those in the West who do not cast blame on them as I believe they no doubt would be. It would be wise to use leverage from a relationship formed from this crisis, to apply pressure on causes such as human rights, which have long been no go areas for discussion with China but are yet of global importance for Canada and the West, as recognition allows for much needed moral clout. That clout is what allows for international actions for our interests to be taken.

An interesting faucet of the pandemic is with collective decision making and consequence, or lack thereof, for non-compliance. Throughout the response to this pandemic, health authorities have asked the population to follow certain guidelines which it is said will lead to the needed outcomes and a flattening of the curve whereby the capacity of hospitals are not overwhelmed. People at the ground level are frequently asked and expected to distance, wear masks, and wash hands. We can see why compliance of washing hands after opening a door is adhered to, similarly the wearing of a mask at an airport, for just one example, is something that we understand completely. The question that follows, quite naturally, is what stake do I have in being compliant? It is important to show benefit at the individual level for the outcome of the collective decision making to be harmonious. Not just that I am protecting some abstract senior citizen or vulnerable person. A healthy individual may say you are wrongfully imposing restrictions on me when I know full well what I should and should not do. This would indicate an independent decision making process which cannot be managed at the macro level. At the macro level there is an assumption of ignorance by the authorities that ask for adherence despite context. My opinion is that if one group of people show non-compliance, it is wrong to then impose on all people restrictions for their non-compliance. A bar that enforces complaint behaviour, and therefore has had no cases of COVID 19, should not be asked to shut down because a bar 15 km away did not care to follow the rules. It will always be true that a person should not bear responsibility for another’s fault. We are not unable in this time to enact specific closures due to non-compliance. A simple unit of enforcement officers would suffice.

On the matter of blame for loss of business, will, after the pandemic is over with the widespread administering of a vaccine, companies turn around and demand compensation for loss of business and mountains of debt? While the event of the pandemic was undoubtedly a natural disaster of sorts, lawsuits often stem from poor Government responses that leave those most affected at the curb. If it is seen as the number of people who lost their lives is low, it may bolster claims that the lockdowns were too heavy handed. On the other hand, if the number of people who lost their lives is high with restrictions, they can easily claim that the restrictions on them were unfair because it would have been the same regardless. As we have seen in Toronto with what bar owners and gym owners are claiming, essentially being unwarranted targeting. We can attempt to mitigate this risk, in the first scenario by strongly making assertions and comparisons with other localities in the United States or other countries where the outbreak was unhindered, and show what could have been. In the second scenario, it must be shown what that industry would have contributed to the case count and loss of life. This proves difficult in the example of the airline industry when no baseline information is available. It could rightly be said, they would have effectively mitigated the risk of spread, had they been given the chance. Few news stories if any, are the result of a plane ride turning into a “super spreader event” although airline travel continues albeit drastically reduced. Weddings as an example of many available, were known to be “super spreader events” yet allowed to continue. This could lead to the argument that the restrictions on certain industries were heavy handed, without just cause, and warrant a review and compensation due to the resulting necessity of mass layoffs and loss of revenue. The question will be how much the Government can insulate themselves from lawsuits that are of this nature which are bound to come forward. Planning it is undoubtedly sure has begun on both sides.

The above is just a few of my thoughts on this pandemic that is gripping the world today. Please take it as such.